Essential New Music: Circuit Des Yeux’s “-io”

Breathe. If you’re afflicted with anxiety, that’s what you’re taught to do, and that’s the first sound Haley Fohr makes on -io. But exhalation doesn’t always keep the panic at bay, and before the first track’s out, she and the listener are drawn into a vortex of swirling strings. We’re in this storm together, and who knows where the house is going to land? But if you’re going to have company while spinning around inside a funnel cloud of emotion and circumstance, Fohr’s a good person to have at your side. She’s been blown around before, so you know she’s a survivor, and if you’ve ever heard one of her records as either Circuit Des Yeux or Jackie Lynn, you know that she comes out swinging.

-io was born out of circumstances that preceded the pandemic. Fohr’s been through episodes of depression, and she lost a friend to suicide in 2019. But the plague time compounded that loss with the deprivation of income, insurance and the chance to be there when an elder passed from another illness. Fohr doesn’t sing directly about these things, but her personal passage through the ringer imbues the album’s more abstract expressions of loss, anguish and struggle with the ring of truth. And because she’s not a confessional artist, Fohr blows up this musical negotiation of the passage through the storm into something much bigger than personal experience.

The opening maelstrom drops you into a free fall of loss—loss of environment, of self, of innocence, but also of fear. People don’t process trauma in linear fashion, so -io doesn’t move in a straight line, either. Instead, it swings between extremes of confidence and confusion, with synthesizers and orchestration surging and receding in oceanic fashion around Fohr’s looming voice. Closing track “Oracle Song” feels more like a passing of the baton than a resolution, and that feels true, too. For whatever happens, whether it’s good or ill, and whether it happens to you or someone else, there’s always something else waiting just around the corner.

—Bill Meyer